The water level in Galveston Bay, off the Texas coast, is rising, faster than ever recorded. That’s what the five scientists who wrote the most recent “State of Galveston Bay” report, commissioned by the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, discovered. But the TCEQ commissioners, appointed by Governor Rick Perry, don’t want Texans to know that, so they censored the scientists’ report to remove their projection that this rise will accelerate in the future and that it is “one of the main impacts of global climate change”. These political appointees deleted or altered nearly all references to the effects of global warming on the Bay. All of the scientists have asked to have their names removed from the report.
This example of scientific censorship comes on the heels of the firing of Georgia’s state climatologist, David Stooksbury, by the Republican Governor, Nathan Deal, who apparently did not like his acceptance of the scientific consensus that human activity has contributed to global warming.
Herman Cain said in June, “I don't believe global warming is real.” In August, Perry said in New Hampshire that global warming is a hoax perpetrated by a “substantial number of scientists who have manipulated data”. The Republican candidates for President often say that government should be run like a business. Yet businesses take a very different attitude toward the science of global warming than Republican politicians.
Insurance companies across the world have built warming into their rate structures for years. In 2006, Marsh, the world's largest insurance broker, sent a 36-page “risk alert” to clients that said: “Climate change - often referred to as ‘global warming’ - is one of the most significant emerging risks facing the world today, presenting tremendous challenges to the environment, to the world economy, and to individual businesses. Businesses - if they haven't already - must begin to account for it in their strategic and operation planning.”
A report last month by the National Association of Insurance Commissioners discussed a 2010 survey of 88 major US insurance companies: “the survey revealed a broad consensus among insurers that climate change will have an effect on extreme weather events.”
Some forward-thinking businesses see opportunity in global warming. During the last 10 years, the polar ice sheet has shrunk by about one-third from its previous size. The Norwegian Arctic Monitoring and Assessment Program estimates that within 30 or 40 years the entire Arctic Ocean will be ice-free in the summer. Now that the Arctic ice is melting, companies in Russia are taking advantage of new sea routes and fishing areas, as is Exxon Mobil, who hopes to drill for oil. Planning ahead is just good business.
But for Republican politicians, it’s bad politics. They have worked hard to convince their base that global warming is a fiction dreamed up by evil liberals. Now they have to shut up the scientists, who keep producing inconvenient evidence.
So here is a plausible scenario. Perry is elected President. Someone in the CIA, who knows about Russia and about foreign policy, especially security, wonders what will happen when more ice melts and the sea route from Russia to North America opens up. No problems yet, but she combines the latest global climate science, with measurements of Arctic Ocean ice, and business data from Russian shipping companies and ship manufacturers, and thinks that in 20 years world naval strategy will be transformed. Since new navies for new challenges in Arctic waters take decades to develop, she wonders why anyone hadn’t caught on to this before. She’s proud of herself.
Perry has demonstrated no capacity to understand, much less deal with complex scientific and foreign policy issues. So he relies on his closest aides. His science advisor knows how to handle this situation – the same way they dealt with the specialists who measured the rising water in Galveston Bay. We can’t admit that, because then we would have to admit that the world was getting warmer. We would have to explain to the American people what our futures might look like, very different from today. We would have to consider how much our modern industrial society contributes to the warming, and then explain what steps we would take to reduce that. We would have to admit that we were wrong, wrong for years, wrong when all the evidence showed we were wrong, wrong because of politics, not science.
As Staples says, “That was easy.” A true no-brainer. We’ll just shut her up in whatever way works best. Eventually the truth will come out, but by that time we’ll be long gone. No need for moral qualms. All the other Republican candidates would have done the same thing. Obama wouldn’t, but would we want to support anything he does?
Sorry for the depressing fairy tale. Perry won’t get elected. But some Republican might, and they already control the House. How can we make sure that this scenario remains a fiction? How can we prevent politics from trumping science, and our security?
published in the Jacksonville Journal-Courier, October 25, 2011